Free Download: Language Stimulation Strategies for Toddlers Cheat Sheet

If you’ve been following along with this blog, you will have seen the first post in the Therapy Techniques for Late Talkers post about Modelling. I have so many techniques to talk about over the coming weeks and months, but I thought I’d make this quick and easy cheat sheet I created for my private practice available to you, to get you started with a handful of strategies while I work on the rest of the series.


Free Download - Language Stimulation Strategies for Toddlers | Where Language Grows

In this cheat sheet I’ve outlined 6 common techniques I use and teach my parents to use with their late talkers. The best part about these is they are pretty simple to implement, and you’re probably using at least some of them consciously or unconsciously already. The cheat sheet will teach you how to use these strategies for eliciting language and communication, and maybe even give you a few new tricks or considerations to help you help your little one on their way to becoming a better communicator.



Therapy Techniques for Late Talkers: Modelling

Modelling is one of the simplest and most important therapy techniques when it comes to teaching toddlers to talk. All it involves is using language for your child to hear. Simple as it is there are definitely some ways we can make it extra effective for late talkers, but if you’re talking to your little one, you’re already using modelling.

Therapy Techniques For Late Talkers - Modelling | Where Language Grows

Modelling is so important for teaching late talkers to learn language. Exposure to language is how all children develop their ability to talk, after all. Hearing words helps kids to understand, imitate and learn to use words. Hearing sentences helps children to understand and use grammar. Seeing people communicate and being communicated with helps little ones to learn how to communicate with others themselves. Modelling isn’t just for words either. Depending on your child’s stage of language development and your goals, you should be modelling gestures, signs, picture communication systems, social behaviours, and more.

Most children will learn to talk just by absorbing the natural models of language they see and hear from others. Children with communication delays, however, may need more focused modelling to help them begin to grasp language, whether that’s receptively or expressively. To use modelling effectively for late talkers who need a little extra help, I have the following tips for making modelling more effective:


Use simple language that matches your child’s communicative level

If they have little or no words, you’ll want to model mostly single words. If they have quite a few words and are putting 2 words together, use short phrases of about 3 words. One clarification I should add is you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) talk to your little one like this 100% of the time. It’s still important that late talkers and early language learners hear lots of examples of rich, complex and natural language, because this is our ultimate goal. This technique is for short 5 or so minute pockets of language stimulation in play.


Use ‘adult’ grammar

Research suggests that using sentences with poor or missing grammar is not as effective as using sentences with adult-like grammar. So for example, instead of saying “ball fall down”, you would say “the ball fell down”. Even though your child is not yet using the irregular past tense form of fall (i.e. fell), your model should.


Be repetitive

Late talkers tend to need a lot of opportunities to hear words before they are able to understand and use them, so be sure use lots of repetition, both within an moment of play, and across multiple moments of play.


Follow your child’s lead

Choose words and language to model based on what your child is interested in or is showing interest in within that moment of play. If your little one loves trains, for example, “train” and related words like “choo choo”, “tracks” and “go” would be great vocabulary to work on. Also be ready to come up with something to model on the fly, if your child is showing particular interest in something during play, which brings me to my last tip:


Be aware of where their attention is directed

It’s important to keep a close eye on what your child’s attention is on. Littlies have a cheeky habit of moving on quickly from toys and activities, and you want to make sure your model matches whatever it is they are focused on. You don’t want to be saying “ball” while they’re looking at the car.


So what wonderful language will you be modelling for your little one? Let me know in the comments below!

The Importance of Verbs and Other Word Types

A couple of weeks ago I uploaded a post called How Many Words Should My Child Be Saying? In this post I outlined the number of words children should have by particular ages, and why it’s important to monitor the quantity of your child’s vocabulary. What I didn’t really talk about, however, was the importance of variety within a child’s vocabulary.

The Importance of Verbs and Other Word Types | Where Language Grows

Most children’s earliest words are nouns, or the names of objects, people and places (e.g. Mum, dad, car, train, etc.). Once they begin to acquire more and more words, however, they begin to acquire new word types, like verbs (e.g. jump, run, go), descriptive words (e.g. yucky, yummy, wet, dirty), location words (e.g. up, down, there) and more. These words are important for effective communication, as there’s only so much information we can convey using nouns alone. They’re also necessary to make the leap from single words to combining words. Most children don’t tend to produce many 2 word utterances by putting 2 nouns together. Instead they tend to combine word types, like a noun and action (e.g. Ball go), noun and descriptor (e.g. Doggy big), etc.

A lack of variety within the types of words within a child’s vocabulary may also be a sign of ongoing language difficulties into later childhood. A study as recent as this year (2016)* identified small verb vocabulary and slow rate of verb acquisition in children 24 months of age to be a predictor of later grammatical deficits.

So, need a hand picking some words other than nouns to teach your little one? If you’re subscribed to the newsletter, you’ll have received a copy of the Toddler Vocabulary Checklist a few weeks ago (if you didn’t, shoot me an email and I’ll send you a copy). In the checklist of the 100 most common early words, most were nouns, but there were also plenty of common verbs and descriptive words in there you can use for inspiration. Between the Toddler Vocabulary Checklist and the word lists below, you will find plenty of wonderful non-noun words to work on with your late talker!





*Hadley, P.A., Rispoli, M., & Hsu, N. (2016). Toddlers Verb Lexicon Diversity and Grammatical Outcomes. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 47, 44-58.

How Many Words Should My Child Be Saying?

Probably the most common question I am asked by parents is how many words should their child be saying at a given age. A lack of words is one of the earliest warning signs for parents, that their child’s communication is not developing typically. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of different figures floating around. While I covered broader communication development in my Early Language Development Series, I wanted to cover vocabulary acquisition specifically, for this reason.

How Many Words? | Where Language Grows


Age Average Number of Words Minimum Number of Words
12 months 1
15 months 10 1
18 months 50 5-15
24 months 200-300 50

The above table breaks down early vocabulary down into ages, along with the average number of words most children will have and the minimum number of words they must have to be considered as falling within the normal range. If a child has fewer words than the minimum expected for their age, their vocabulary development is delayed, and this can be an indicator of language delays or disorders. For this reason I thoroughly recommend contacting a Speech Pathologist local to you for an assessment if your child is not yet saying the minimum number of words.

Unfortunately, counting your child’s words is not as simple as it sounds. There are a few things you will need to keep in mind. The first is that for a child to be considered to have a word in their vocabulary they must say it spontaneously. This means without having to have copied it or repeated it back (children can be great imitators but have difficulty holding onto words). Next, they must also have said it multiple times in more than one or two situations. Some children with language delays with have what I call “pop-outs”, where a word will come out of nowhere, and usually doesn’t reappear after that. Finally, unfortunately, lost words do not count. Regression is never normal, and may be a warning sign for language disorders and other diagnoses. I recommend a child who has lost words (even if they still fall within the range of normal for number of words) be referred to a Speech Pathologist.

Now that you’ve got the info you need on how many words your little one should be using, it’s time to start counting! I’ve got a fantastic freebie that’s about to go out to my newsletter subscribers that will help you do just that. The Toddler Vocabulary Checklist includes the 100 most common early words in an easy printable checklist form (as well as some extra space to add any other words your little one uses), that will make counting up your child’s words even easier. Be sure to sign up through the sign up form on the right sidebar of this page by September 3rd at 8pm Australian Eastern Standard time.

Toddler Vocabuary Checklist

My Five Favourite Toy Types for Speech Therapy

I love collecting toys to add to arsenal for therapy. It’s actually becoming a bit of a problem, as I have more toys than I have space for in my little office! Still, I can’t help myself when I see something that I know my little friends will love, especially as toys are so useful in teaching kids to communicate. As a parent, however, it’s not really plausible to have the quantity of toys as a practice (both financially and space wise), and you definitely don’t need that many to help a late talker or early language learner. In today’s post, I’ve compiled a list of my five favourite types of toys for therapy. These are the types of toys that I use most often with children between around 12 months and 3 years, because they are fun, effective and do double duty when it comes to targeting different skills.

Toy Types

Cause and Effect Toys

Cause and effect toys are simple toys where a child does something (like hit a button, pull a lever, etc.) which causes the toy to do something (like light up, make noises, move, etc.). These toys are lots of fun and can be used to teach a lot of different skills. The really obvious one you can work on with a cause and effect toy is cause and effect. Children need to understand that they can do or say something and it will have an impact on the behaviour of something else before they are ready to communicate verbally. They are also fantastic for teaching vocabulary like ‘go’, ‘my turn’, ‘more’, ‘push’, etc. They are particularly great for little ones who need a bit of temptation to make communicative attempts. For these little guys I bogart the toy or parts of the toy that make it go and try to elicit the target word before letting them have their turn (don’t I sound mean!)

Some of my favourite cause and effect toys are the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Gumball Count and Colour Gumball, Fisher Price Giggle Gang toys (great for smacking and crashing) and the Bright Starts Roll & Pop Fire Truck.

Blocks, Duplo and Other Simple Building Toys

Kids love construction toys, whether it’s building them up or, as is more likely, knocking the down. They make great toys for stimulating language skills too. You can target new words like ‘block’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘on’, ‘smash’, ‘push’, ‘broken’, and on and on. You can also use them to work on a lot of preverbal skills too, like joint attention, turn taking and cause and effect.

Any block set you can get your hands on will do, so long as it’s appropriate for your little one’s age and stage.


There are few things kids won’t do for bubbles. I don’t know what it is about a floating circular films of dish soap, but little ones just love them! There are very few preverbal skills that you couldn’t find a way to work on with bubbles. Target skills like joint attention (they will be waiting so expectantly for you to blow those bubbles), cause and effect, turn taking and even imitation (I haven’t met a little friend yet who didn’t at some stage commandeer the wand and copy blowing bubbles). It your little one is in the early stages of word learning, there’s also lots of words you can teach them to say and/or understand, like ‘bubble’, ‘pop’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘go’, ‘more’, ‘wow’, ‘big’, ‘little’, ‘get it’, ‘poke’, ‘blow’, ‘wet’, ‘all gone’ and so much more.

I tend to favour the classic bubble and wand set, but I also use and love automatic and press to blow bubble toys.

Swings, Slides and Other Movement Equipment

Some kids, especially ones who seek sensory input, love whole body movement and the proprioceptive feedback it gives their little bodies. For these kids the best toys can be ones that help them get lots and lots of movement in. You can use these to work on skills like requesting (try blocking the slide or holding onto the swing until you get a word, sign or even vocalisation), turn taking, imitation of movements and more. Vocabulary targets are also only as limited as your imagination, but some common ones are ‘swing’, ‘slide’ ‘see-saw’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘climb’, ‘run’, ‘go’, ‘fast’, ‘slow’, ‘high’ and ‘stop’.

You definitely don’t need to go and buy any of this equipment either. If you’re near a park with play equipment, go and do your ‘therapy’ at the park! You can even get creative at home for some movement activities. I’ve seen families use cardboard over the bottom few steps on a stair case to make a makeshift slide, blankets used like a hammock to swing little ones (very carefully!), obstacle courses made from things found around the house, and if you’re an Aussie too you can use your hills hoist to hang from like monkey bars.

Pretend Play Toys

Pretend play is important for language development because it’s role in helping to develop a child’s understanding of symbolism. It’s also inherently fun for most kids to imitate the world around them in their play. Pretend play toys like babies, dolls and stuffed are great for teaching a child to begin to engage in pretend play, starting with simple pretend actions like kissing, rocking or patting, and eventually moving up to things like pretending to feed and groom. For a little one who’s got the pretend play thing down, these sorts of toys can also be awesome for targeting vocabulary, especially with the different food, animal, home and occupation sets you can get a hold of. Because they generally come in sets, it’s also a great chance to teach slightly higher level vocabulary in the form of category labels, like farm animals, zoo animals, fruit, vegetables, etc.

My newest favourite pretend play toy is a wooden set of fruit and vegetables with chopping board and knife I picked up on a recent camping trip. You also can’t beat your basic baby doll or kitchen set.

Bonus: YOU!

You are more important than any toy you can buy for your child. While toys are wonderful tools for stimulating communication development, you are the one they will learn their language from. My best recommendation for making the most out of all of the toys I’ve talked about in this post is for you to be involved in the play that happens around them.

What are your little ones favourite toys, and what creative ways do you use them to build communication at home?